Enough with “consumers” already

I can’t be the only one who is driven nuts by the constant media use of the term “consumers” in place of “people”, “Americans”, or  “citizens”.  As an engineer I tend to pay more attention to matter and energy flows, technologies of transformation, and evolutionary biological tendencies than to the language that frames discussions.  But it is not hard for me to imagine that a people constantly hearing themselves described with language better suited to feeder hogs might eventually suffer creeping slothfulness and lack of imagination.

Sure I consume things; chiefly a couple pounds a day of bread and beans and cheese; a couple dozen MJ of electricity, a few gallons of water, and a couple liters of gasoline, and the last thing I want to do is to downplay the significance of that consumption in terms of ecological impact, but it is hardly how I want to define my relationship to society, not what I want as my epitaph – “Here lies Ben: he was a good consumer”.  I don’t want my primary role in society to be one of dutifully buying whatever schwag my fellow man puts up on offer, the better to prop up the economy and fend off recession.

And so I shout (electronically speaking): CONSUMPTION BE DAMNED! – I am not a cow, not a hog, not an overfed mis-shapen broiler hen, KFC-bound.  I yearn to be a producer, a transformer, a creator, and I want to see my fellow citizens likewise engaged.  I seek to produce the basic substance of life – when it is complete in full production the orchard should produce around 20,000 pounds of apples per year, enough to feed 3-4 people.  If carefully managed the surrounding woodlands will sustainably produce several thousand board feet per year of high quality saw timber, suitable for building and repairing houses, boats, furniture, and barrels (for the cider).  The world is in desperate need of clean, renewable energy, generated in quantity proportional to the need, and for many years it has been the goal of my professional efforts to develop technologies capable of producing this energy, as economically as possible and at a meaningful scale.  On an individual level, the same compulsion leads to projects like the pedal-electric bike, which saves 130 MJ of gasoline a day and uses a mere 2-3MJ of electricity while delivering much-needed exercise.

This visceral desire to produce likewise explains why I find myself compelled to spend a hundred dollars worth of time making fifteen dollars worth of bread, and why I have an irrational urge to grow the grain for that bread myself. And it transcends the practical.  Nowadays the internets are happy to deliver for free a nonstop stream of high quality professionally-made music, any flavor I choose and without the din of commercials.  I will never produce music of that quality, but nonetheless there I go almost every night, sawing away on the fiddle, trying to create some of my own.  And I want you to do it too; I want to sit with my friends in the shade of an apple tree and play music, eat the bread we baked, and drink the cider we brewed.  I want these things even if they don’t increase the GDP or reduce unemployment, even if it means I’m a lousy consumer.


3 Responses to “Enough with “consumers” already”

  1. jdk Says:

    Right on brother! Keep on preaching the good news!

  2. kpf Says:


  3. Minimalism in its place « Five Islands Orchard Says:

    […] scale of consuming more or less, and become a transformer, a producer. This instinct to get beyond consumption and directly produce the basic physical stuff of our sustenance is the driving force behind the […]

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